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Training planned for helping those with disabilities in emergency situations

A man in a camoflauge jacket and a faded orange Jack-o'-Lantern hat rakes ashes.
Beatrice Bankausate
The Columbia Missourian
Shawn Knight, a Wooldridge village resident, cleans the remains of his burned home on Friday, Dec. 9 after a fire spread throughout the area. The training set to come to Columbia and around the state will address how to respond to emergencies with disability awareness.

Vicky Davidson, Missouri Developmental Disability Council executive director, first learned about disaster preparedness shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Davidson said many people with disabilities died during the hurricane because of lack of preparedness.

David Whalen, project director at Niagara University and a disability rights activist, agrees. "Unfortunately, people die before we get to the point of proper response," he said.

Missouri Developmental Disability Councils is partnering with Niagara University to hold free trainings on disability awareness and emergency preparedness.

Whalen has been coming to Missouri to conduct similar trainings for first responders for the past six years.

This year, part of the trainings are open to the public.

The project aims to connect disability and response organizations with those they will be working with in the event of an emergency.

"With the disability community, we want to bring them into these trainings so that they can develop those partnerships with their emergency managers," Davidson said, "so that the emergency managers can work directly with the disability community and identify gaps and barriers in their planning and include people with disabilities in all spaces they're planning."

Everyone who is invested in this topic area — from medical professionals to disability advocacy agencies — needs to be present, Whalen said.

"It's really important that the public is aware of what they need to do to remain safe during disasters," Davidson said.

Each location has two training options.

The full training, Monday through Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., is for those that have a large role in response during disasters and other emergencies in the community.

The public portion is the half-day training on Tuesday, from 1-5 p.m. It's for everyone who wants to learn about the process of emergency response and disability awareness and is willing to assist others in emergency situations.

“That's open for more people who have responsibilities in the field, but might not have an authoritative or administrative role,” Whalen said. “It could be a person with a disability who has not connected with an aid, it could be a parent of a person with a disability.”

Compared with many other states, Missouri has better recognition of the need for disability awareness related to disaster relief, Whalen said.

“It's people internally, usually starting at the federal government level, elected officials and legislators, who are recognizing the need to make this a priority,” he said. “And, quite frankly, invest in it.”

Earlier this month trainings were held in Springfield and Independence. Although the events went well, attendance could always be improved, Whalen said. Some factions that need to be present don’t always manage to attend the full training.

The next two trainings are in Columbia and St Louis. Although the latter is fully booked, Columbia still had available registration spots as of Thursday.

The project grant is for three years, expiring in 2025.

“We will be in all nine regions with two extra, probably in the populated areas at Kansas City and definitely St. Louis,” Whalen said. “It's going to benefit someone, some person with a disability that otherwise would not be properly responded to.”

The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.
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